Can Europe Make It?

Floods and sinking voter turnout

Marko Boko
23 May 2014
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Tidal wave floods Lake Jarun in Zagreb. Demotix/Marin Tomas. All rights reserved.

Difficult to focus on this short overview on the European Parliament (EP) elections campaign in Croatia, when we are overtaken by a disaster caused by floods throughout the country and the region. I just got home from the humanitarian actions under way and am running back after finishing the blog. When it comes to the general situation with the elections, they hardly get a look-in with the media now and anyway, nothing has changed.

Interest in European elections does not exist not only among citizens in Croatia, but also among politicians and even some candidates. Politicians and candidates have little sense of their role or their duties, and are rather focused on their own existential problems. They do not want to legitimize someone's personal interest in being elected to the EP, as they still can't see what the EU offers us as a country. It is a pure matter of principle for them.

Another reason why citizens do not actually care is that they do not understand why we vote on May 25 and how we do it - and except for a few NGOs (they have organised debates and round tables on various topics, running campaigns to explain to citizens what is it about with the idea of motivating them to vote...) and the EP office in Zagreb - no one has any interest in the whole affair.

So, it is clear that responsibility for this situation is also rooted in our political structures and institutions which were supposed to offer them a minimum of content and vision within the ''campaign'' period, which simply did not happen. Probably you ask yourselves why quotation marks next to the word ''campaign''? Because there is no campaign and you can literally count the campaign billboards and posters on the fingers of one hand. It is so surreal.

I do really wonder what  the few leading candidates who were touring around Croatia in the last few weeks speak to people about, as the elections programmes of the biggest parties are writen in a few bullet points, explaining nothing. Basically, I am really looking forward to the moment when Croatian citizens will recognize that these candidates and parties will be elected despite the lack of any clear political statements on the vision and future of Europe. Meanwhile, the youth organisations  of political parties are active mostly in campaigns for the European Commission presidental candidates – so it's nice to see some European perspective for a change. But, the truth is that citizens especially do not understand that part of the campaign. That is another dimension which has yet to be discovered by most people and I have not seen any effort to present it in a public space -  for now, it just makes grasping the situation even more complicated.

Meanwhile, floods have caused an enormous disaster in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, so the main political parties have decided to stop their campaigns (which campaigns?) in order to redirect campaign money to the victims and affected areas.

The situation in the field is chaotic and thousands of people have lost their homes and are now displaced; dozens of citizens have lost their lives and we do not yet see an end to this catastrophe - so the money and any kind of help is more than welcome. Somehow, for me, I see this move as a good excuse to stop doing something that you had no heart in anyway, and as something else as well. The campaign that does continue is called playing with the emotions of the people. Thankfully, citizens are not blind.

As for the predicted EP election results? The HDZ coalition (conservatives) will get 5 seats (out of 11), SDP coalition (social-democrats) will get 4 seats and 1 seat per party goes to the Labour party and OraH (greens). These elections will probably be used to punish the SDP government and the rise of the right in Croatia, as they switch places every 4 years. Also, the ones who actually never planned to go and vote might now do it in order to punish the government for their inadequate response to the floods disaster.

Reactions will be interesting if the SDP lose the elections, as the Prime Minister's support within the party and government is plummeting and the situation is no better among the people. Also, preferential votes will show clearly again who is the most popular SDP politician, someone placed in 5th place in the list in order not to shake the PM's chair too much – a real boomerang effect is under way there.

I realise now that I was a bit naive expecting to see a real campaign and some motivation to beat the 20% turnout of the first EP elections in Croatia. Now I'll be happy if it does not sink below that.

Nevertheless, the funny thing is, everyone would like to see a strong Croatia within the EU, and within a solidary and social Europe, with no unemployment etc. So I would say, go ahead and vote and do not stop there - create your own Europe and demand more subsidiarity, inclusion, participation in decision-making processes, social responsibility and solidarity.

But, should you miss the chance to pick your choice, you can be sure that those who you least want to see messing around with Europe will get to do so. It will be too late then. Move Europe forward!

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